Application

 Cambridge

 Emmanuel

 Medicine

 2007

 offer made

Applicant

 A-levels

 pre-qualification

 home

 United Kingdom

 Grammar School

State grammar school for girls.

 yes (13 A*)

A-levels

(A at AS (285 UMS))

(A at AS (294 UMS))

(A at AS (283 UMS); predicted A; gained A at A2)

(A at AS (270 UMS); predicted A; gained A at A2)

(A at AS (300 UMS); predicted A; gained A at A2)

(A at AS (275 UMS); predicted A; gained A at A2)

Details about the offer

 conditional

A in Biology, A in Chemistry, C in French, A in Mathematics

AAAC

yes

yes

yes

I applied to three other medical schools (but withdrew once I had my Cambridge and BSMS offers) and also to Exeter for Biological Sciences as my fifth choice.

 offer met

Decisions about the application

In a way, it was a process of elimination! I knew that I definitely didn’t want to undertake a PBL style course and I ruled out medical schools that I felt were too far away. Only then did I start to look at the remaining courses and I found that I really liked the idea of a traditional course, with a clear divide between the pre-clinical and clinical years.

The very scientific course was appealing, as was the opportunity to tailor the degree to my interests (particularly in the third year, when I could potentially introduce an element of the arts or concentrate on one particular area of science/medicine in more depth). I was also impressed by the fact that it would be possible to be a ‘normal’ undergraduate as it were before progressing to clinical school and I personally feel that this would make me more confident in dealing with patients knowing that I already had learnt the vast majority of essential anatomy, biochemistry, physiology etc.

In terms of choosing Cambridge as a university rather than solely for the course, I love the city and really thrive on pressure, so I wanted to go somewhere that would stretch me to my academic limits.

I visited both cities and was impressed both times, so it was a hard decision! In the end I found that I marginally preferred Emmanuel College to Wadham (the college where I would have applied if I had chosen Oxford) and the idea that there wouldn’t be so much pressure for the BMAT if I applied to Cambridge certainly made a difference (since Oxford use the BMAT and your GCSEs to determine who is called for interview).

I made a list of pros and cons for both universities and this helped me to pick, though I know that if I could have applied to both I would have done! My grandma is also insanely loyal to Cambridge so she would have never spoken to me again if I had chosen Oxford!

I preferred the course structure to that at other universities, particularly as I wanted dissection to play a role in my learning (I have been told on numerous occasions by doctors and students that it is the best way to learn Anatomy).

The supervisions were also an attractive feature of the course as discussing my ideas aloud is one of the best ways for me personally to learn. I also have a lot to say when it comes to Medicine, so the more chances for me to talk, the better!

Compared to other universities, medics at Oxford and Cambridge appear to write more essays (or so I have been informed). This appealed because in order to write a coherent and balanced essay, it is necessary to consider all the possible sides and aspects to the topic. This made me feel that I would be developing my ability to think logically, have an open mind and eliminate flaws in my thinking (which would all be useful in medical practice).

I made a shortlist of colleges that I felt would suit me best in terms of size, location, the college societies, the selection process etc and then visited these on the open day. I found that Emmanuel was the most welcoming and the place where I thought I would feel most at home- the atmosphere was really relaxed, the students were chatty and helpful and all the college staff were happy to answer even the most inane questions!

I knew a lot of people at the time who tried to play the numbers game, selecting their course and college based on the statistics for the percentage of successful applicants in the previous year. Personally I believe that this is pointless (due to the pooling system) so I was much happier applying to a college that I actually liked.

Preparation

yes

Oxbridge Applications held a day at our school for all the people thinking of applying, which at least gave me some practice at selling myself and talking animatedly to a stranger, even if the questions were nothing like the real interview. Our headteacher also had contacts in terms of ex-Admissions Tutors who came to give us subject specific interviews. This one was more like my actual interview experience as I was pushed to defend my views a lot more and we talked about some topics that were currently in the news.

Don’t spend hours cramming before the interview- I did and trust me, it was so unnecessary in hindsight! Make sure you know your AS subjects fairly well and try to keep abreast of current news stories (make sure you have an opinion that you’re prepared to defend too). If you’re interested in a certain area, read some books that you would be prepared to talk about, as even if you don’t talk about them in your interview, you’re building up a mass of knowledge for the future. I kept a diary with brief details of the medically-related books that I had read and it really helped to jog my memory before interviews!

As an aside, it’s good practice for all medical interviews to have kept a diary of Work Experience so that you remember what you did, what you saw and your opinions etc (beware of patient confidentiality however). I didn’t get asked at all about this in my interview at Cambridge, although I was asked elsewhere and the fact that I remembered in great detail about what happened during my time on Work Experience certainly worked in my favour.

Interview

yes

I sat the BMAT, which was certainly the most time-pressured exam I’ve ever done. Practice helps to build up speed (try using some Critical Thinking past papers for the multiple choice Section 1 and some GCSE Science questions for Section 2). If you’re running out of time, don’t be afraid to guess as there is at least a chance you’ll get the answer right.

For Section 3, any reading you may have done can be extremely helpful as you will have relevant examples to elucidate your points. Make sure you plan properly so that you can write succintly and with a clear structure and whatever happens, make sure you have a conclusion to round everything off nicely. Look at Critical Thinking books to see what successful arguments look like, as this could help you to avoid having major flaws in your writing.

no

yes

They weren’t as scary or as intimidating as I’d originally thought and the time went ridiculously fast. I came out of the first one convinced that the interviewers must have wondered why I applied, but the second one was better and despite saying some rather embarrassingly silly things (no one is immune from that!) I felt like I had at least managed to demonstrate that I was actually a realistic candidate. I was adamant however that I hadn’t got a place, but I enjoyed the discussions and I was grateful at least for that opportunity.

Don’t worry if they cut you off- that happened all the time in both my interviews and although it was frustrating at the time, I could see that they did this when it was obvious I had a lot to say, so that they could move on to areas that I’d never thought about before. I found myself having to justify everything I said as one interiewer in particular was playing the Devil’s Advocat but this wasn’t a problem and in fact was actually quite enjoyable as we got a bit of a debate going.

I’d say that it’s important to talk your way through a problem, explaining why you think the things that you do. They don’t care if you get things wrong- they want to see how you think, so don’t be afraid to chance your arm if you think of something, no matter how sure you are that it’s completely wrong. They will give you hints to help you out, so you will get there eventually.

Which area of Biology interests you the most?
Why don’t you want to study French?
Which of these organs do you think it would be easiest to transplant? Why? Which would be the most difficult? Why?
Look at this image. Which type of blood vessel does it show? How do you know?
What do you know about the prevention of cardiovascular disease?
How could we slow down the rate of atherosclerosis?
What are angioplasties?
How could we prevent stunts used in operations from being rejected by the body?
What are the main problems associated with the NHS? How could we combat these problems?

I wore a white blouse, smart grey trousers, a black cardigan and a black patent waist belt. I wanted to be quite smart but not uncomfortable and this seemed to be the best option (particularly as I was travelling for a considerable part of that day too). I also wore heels because that made me feel more confident.

Impressions

King’s- I found this intimidating at first, although the students were absolutely lovely once I’d gone inside. Don’t let first appearances put you off- when I arrived I assumed that everyone would be scarily intellectual and that I wouldn’t fit in, but it was actually one of the nicest colleges I visited.

Downing- this is really pretty and the accomodation is so impressive, but there were no current students so I couldn’t get that much of a feel for what it would be like on a day to day basis. They also told me about the planned building work and this put me off as it would have been due to continue for a couple of years and if I got an offer, may have been distracting when I was working.

St. Catharine’s- this was really tiny (much smaller than I had expected) and although all the Admissions Tutors were so welcoming and gave really interesting talks, there were again no students, so I didn’t leave thinking that I could imagine myself there. They did have choir practice going on in the chapel while I was walking around however, which added to the good atmosphere.

Emmanuel- so many students had volunteered to help that when we had a tour of the college, there was only my dad and I to show around. They made a real effort to find you a tour guide who was studying your subject so that you could ask them really specific questions and unlike the other colleges who had sectioned off areas that were off limits to visitors, I really did get to see the whole of the college and so I felt like I could see myself living there.

The rooms that I saw were really nice- light, airy and quite large compared to other colleges. It was nice also to have a choice between the very different North and South Courts.

I didn’t stay over for my interview as I didn’t have too far to travel, so I didn’t get to try any of the food. I’ve heard that it’s tasty, but not so good for vegetarians.

They were really helpful and so friendly. I asked lots of questions and although there were a couple which they didn’t know the answers to, I got a quick response via email (this was really very impressive as I was expecting them to forget, considering how busy they are).

All the college students had nothing but praise for the college and the university and this positivity certainly rubbed off on me. Nothing was too much trouble and they appeared to have all the time in the world to quash all the rumours that I had about Cambridge and to rationalise all the fears I had. They really made the decision of which college to apply to very easy, as Emmanuel students were by far the friendliest and most accomodating. Unlike at some other colleges, I didn’t feel that they needed to be somewhere else or that they wanted to hurry me up- they were prepared to make sure that all my questions were answered and that I was happy with everything before the tour ended.

Final stage

It was horrendous, but only because I was at school for the few days before the decision and Cambridge frenzy seemed to have taken over the Sixth Form (we had a large number of applicants). I also seemed to have really strange dreams for a few nights before (but then, I’m like that for results too!)

Lots of shrieking and jumping up and down! I was so happy that the waiting was finally over and that I had the outcome I had hoped for, although the thickness of the letter made me sure that it was a rejection. Note to all applicants: ignore the tales people tell you about the thickness/ colour etc of the envelopes and what that means- they’re not true! Different colleges do things differently and while my letter was only 2 sheets of paper, others got complete packs of information. For Emmanuel, this didn’t come until March so there’s no need to worry if your envelope is thin…just open it and find out!

Looking back

Most definitely- it was a lot of hard work (though that applies generally to Medicine applications, not just those at Oxbridge) but it was so worth it. I can’t wait to start the course, grades permitting!

Even if you think it’s a long shot applying to Oxbridge, remember it is only one of five choices so if you’re going to regret not going for it, then apply and you won’t have to think ‘What if?’.

Don’t panic- it’s not worth the energy! Simply go in with the attitude that the experience will be fantastic and an offer would be an added bonus, that way there’s no pressure and you can enjoy the application process and the interview regardless of the outcome. If only I’d known this before my application!